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Where Was He When It Mattered?

Kucinich: Maverick or Stalking Horse?

by RAHUL MAHAJAN

Winter approaches and a young politician’s fancy turns to thoughts of the 2008 presidential campaign. Among the announced candidates is antiwar favorite Dennis Kucinich.

I have nothing against Kucinich. He’s one of the most progressive Congresspeople and a genuinely decent, honest person who seems to have no trace of the personal corruption so endemic to politicians. Overall, his values and political stances seem highly compatible with the transformative left agenda that so many believe in quietly.

I disagree with him on some issues. On trade, I want a fair international order with binding rules that apply to everybody ­ rules that embody values very different from those in the WTO ­ while Kucinich wants an essentially anarchic world order where the United States strong-arms other countries through bilateral trade pacts. A position he shares with George W. Bush — back when Bush had positions on issues other than "freedom."

To be fair, Bush wants to impose better conditions for U.S. corporations and for militaristic U.S. imperialism on weaker countries, whereas Kucinich merely wants to impose "social clauses" that are protectionist in effect ­ which is, of course, the kind of "humanitarian imperialism" that Kucinich resolutely opposes in the military sphere. He also doesn’t seem to understand that this is impossible ­ the United States, beholden as it is to corporate interests and to its privileged position in the world order, cannot possibly be in the vanguard on this issue. Look to Venezuela, the G21, Mercosur, anywhere except the United States.

I also task him for not voting against the absurd congressional resolution blindly supporting Israel’s Lebanon war, whose avowed target was the civilian political supporters of Hizbullah ­ he voted "present," a cowardly act for someone who wants to be a leader of the left.

Though these are important defects, Kucinich is in general very good, and, based solely on the issues, worthy of support.

Even so, if you are considering supporting him, I want to caution you.

Given the conservative-nationalistic populist refoundation of the Democratic Party, most likely Kucinich will stand out as the only even slightly anti-militarist and anti-imperialist Democratic candidate. Short of a run by Nader, Bill Moyers, or someone like that, he’ll probably also be the only worthy candidate with any public recognition.

Still, despite numerous fatuous proclamations of his, there’s absolutely no way he will win or even make a respectable showing, and so one must consider what is to be gained from supporting him.

Last time, his campaign spent $11 million — $11 million of activist money poured down a rat-hole, in my opinion, along with a great deal of time, effort, and enthusiasm.

His campaign was intellectually deficient on foreign policy, a crippling fault. His talks were long on platitudes about peace, but short on the specifics about real issues that might have spread the left message beyond the choir. So ignorant was he regarding the U.S.-backed coup against Aristide that, in a televised debate, he said what the U.S. was doing was good, but it needed to do more ­ it was left to John Kerry, oddly, to expose the extent of the Bush administration’s animus toward Aristide.

Although Kucinich’s "position" on Iraq was fine, he had very little to say about it and avoided the issue in favor of expansive visions on social programs that couldn’t possibly make any difference in a political campaign defined by Iraq.

What really stood out, though, was his behavior at the Democratic Convention. Although he had maintained his candidacy in order to hang onto his delegates, loyalty to the Party trumped the antiwar cause and he capitulated to the militarism of the Democratic leadership, instructing his delegates to back down on the question of an antiwar plank in the Democratic platform — even though an estimated 95% of all delegates to the convention were antiwar.

Even though he did speak there, he went with the flow and talked about Kerry the great war hero. Not a mention of the still-fresh Abu Ghraib/torture scandal, alluded to only by Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson

Last but hardly least, he did nothing to help build self-sustaining left organizations that could continue to exert influence after the campaign was over.

Those of you who want to work for Kucinich don’t need to rule it out right away. But make him accountable. He’s not going to win and the meaning or lack thereof of his campaign is going to be in relation to the antiwar movement. He needs to know if he runs again he’s working for us.

RAHUL MAHAJAN is publisher of the weblog Empire Notes, with regularly updated commentary on U.S. foreign policy, the occupation of Iraq, and the state of the American Empire. He has been to occupied Iraq twice, and was in Fallujah during the siege in April. His most recent book is Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond. He can be reached at rahul@empirenotes.org